Five Best Thursday Columns

The GOP debate, China's rise, and seasonal food

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John Dickerson on the GOP debate Going into last night's Republican debate, many wondered whether Governor Rick Perry would "shoot from the hip." In fact, "he used both hands and took careful aim," writes Slate's John Dickerson, going after Mitt Romney on jobs, Ron Paul on supporting Reagan, as well as Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and President Obama. As the front runner, Dickerson argues, Perry had to demonstrate why  he was on top. He arrived with his own message as well as "opposition research about his opponents," and presented himself as a "strong tell-it-like-it-is candidate." He may have caused himself future problems with his double-down strategy on Social Security, standing by his characterization that the program is a "Ponzi scheme." Romney quickly defended the program, saying it was important, ("by which he meant, Voters of Florida, please elect me." Dickerson notes.) Both Romney and Huntsman said Perry could be unelectable. Dickerson applauds Romney for showing experience when asked to criticize Perry for his HPV vaccination policy in Texas. "He said he assumed Perry's 'heart was in the right place.' He then turned to attack Obama. It showed discipline, generosity, and élan gained from experience." Regarding the rest of the GOP nominees, Dickerson says they will not be elected, though they can still shape the tone of the race. Huntsman "came alive" last night, but probably not enough to make a dent in the Perry vs. Romney contest this has become.

Joe Biden on competing with China  Much of the debate on China's rise has remained the same in the years since then-Senator Joseph Biden traveled there in 1979. "Then, as now, there were concerns about what a growing China meant to America and the world," writes Vice President Biden in The New York Times. "Some here and in the region see China's growth as a threat, entertaining visions of a cold-war-style rivalry or great-power confrontation." Biden rejects the fears. "I remain convinced that a successful China can make our country more prosperous, not less," he says. "On issues from global security to global economic growth, we share common challenges and responsibilities," and after meeting extensively with China's vice president (and heir apparent), he says the Chinese agree. Americans often focus on our imports from China, but often we forget that China imported $100 billion of American goods and services. This will continue, as Chinese leaders know they will transition from an export economy to consumption and services. And even as we compete in some respects with China, we must keep its economic rise in perspective, Biden says. "America's gross domestic product, almost $15 trillion, is still more than twice as large as China's; our per-capita G.D.P., above $47,000, is 11 times China's." China only holds about 8 percent of America's outstanding treasuries. Americans hold 70 percent, so claims that China "owns" American debt are false. Above all, America will thrive in the competition because of our ability to innovate, he writes. Our political and educational system encourage us not to "accept orthodoxy" but to debate and improve it. To compete, China will have to open their society to human rights and creative minds. "Some may warn of America’s demise, but I'm not among them. And let me reassure you: based on my time in China, neither are the Chinese."

Edward Glaeser on the governor effect  Edward Glaeser wonders how much influence governors have on their states' economic performances. To find out, he controls for "year-by-year changes in the national economy and long-term trends in a state" and then examines the records of three governors now running for president. "The Perry years look about average for Texas; Mitt Romney’s term looks bad for Massachusetts; and Jon Huntsman’s tenure seems better than the Utah norm," Glaeser writes in The Boston Globe. In a replay of Michael Dukakis's campaign based on the "Massachusetts Miracle", Perry is pointing to Texas, which has admittedly "dramatically outperformed the nation." Between July 2007 and July 2011, Texas gained jobs while America shed them, and its unemployment rate now stands much lower than the nation's. But before Perry's tenure, the Texas model, "with low taxes, limited regulations, and energy-related resources," was already in place, attracting businesses and people to the state. "When I also control for Texas' tendency since 1989 to add jobs more quickly, the Perry effect on employment growth drops below one-tenth of 1 percent," Glaeser says. "So while Perry can claim to be a faithful representative of the Texas model, he hasn’t outperformed his state's history." Glaeser uses the same method in Massachusetts and Utah and discovers that the "Romney effect on private employment is negative 1.5 percent per year. Under Huntsman, meanwhile, job growth in Utah was 1.6 percent higher than the national norm, and the unemployment rate was 1.4 percent lower--an impact much greater than the Perry effect." Still, much of Huntsman's success should go to Utah's smart entrepreneurs and Romney's struggles coincide with the slowdown in the Massachusetts tech boom."We should guard against our tendency to give either governors or presidents too much credit for the economy," Glaeser writes.

Gernot Wagner on the futility of individual action on the environment  "You reduce, reuse and recycle. You turn down plastic and paper. You avoid out-of-season grapes. You do all the right things. Good. Just know that it won't save the tuna, protect the rain forest or stop global warming," warns Gernot Wagner in The New York Times. These forces cannot be stopped with individual actions, he says, even if one were to take larger measures, like giving up a car, air conditioning, and heat. "You would, in fact, have no impact on the planet. Americans would continue to emit an average of 20 tons of carbon dioxide a year; Europeans, about 10 tons." Furthermore, "when your average is 20 tons per year, going down to 18 tons is as easy as taking a staycation. But if you are among the four billion on the planet who each emit one ton a year, you have nowhere to go but up." Individual action, Gernot says, "distracts us from the need for collective action." We need economic policies that will incentivize us to cut the world's carbon emissions in half by 2050. "Every ton of carbon dioxide pollution causes around $20 of damage to economies, ecosystems and human health. That sum times 20 implies $400 worth of damage per American per year." He calls this system when all of society pays for one's carbon consumption "socialism". A "cap and trade" regulatory system would more closely resemble capitalism, he argues, because everyone would pay for the cost of their own emissions rather than placing the burden on society. "Don't stop recycling. Don't stop buying local," he says. "But add mastering some basic economics to your to-do list. Our future will be largely determined by our ability to admit the need to end planetary socialism."

Joseph Sternberg on Beijing's Internet problem  "Every day Beijing grows more uncomfortable with the degree of free communications it has accidentally allowed in China," writes Joseph Sternberg in The Wall Street Journal. The government has serious concerns about Sina's microblog Weibo in the wake of the high speed train crash. "We have failed to take into sufficient account just how much the Internet is a double-edged sword, and have a problem of allowing technology to advance while administration and regulation lag," wrote a People's Daily editorial (emphasis the Journal's.) "The fact is that Sina Weibo already is illegal." Sina offered shares in Western markets, which violates a law that forbids foreign investment in "sensitive sectors such as Internet services." China understood when the law was passed that the Internet posed a threat. "But it also was clear that Beijing would need to allow some form of the Internet for the economy to thrive, and that the capital for doing so on a Chinese scale was overseas. Beijing discovered, not for the first or last time, that the 'rule of law' in China was incompatible with economic growth." So through a loophole called a variable-interest entity, companies can create Chinese-owned shell organizations that bend the accounting rules. "Beijing has never explicitly said that this trick is legal. Everyone has simply assumed it is because Beijing was content to allow Sina's IPO, and so many since, to proceed using this VIE structure." So the Communist party could simply decide that VIEs are illegal and shut Weibo down. They don't becuase they have realized that its popularity would likely lead to a huge backlash. "The problem is that in this instance, the rule of the party's law discouraging Internet investment would undermine the growth on which the party relies for legitimacy. Beijing needs businesses like Sina, whether it wants them or not."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.